Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Orchestra Super Mazembe

  • Giants of East Africa [Earthworks, 2002] A-
  • Mazembe @ 45RPM Vol. 1 [Sterns Africa, 2013] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Giants of East Africa [Earthworks, 2002]
These are the Zairean émigrés whose early-'80s soukousification of the Kenyapop classic "Shauri Yako" takes Guitar Paradise of East Africa over the top at track seven. Situated in the same position here, the song's thoughtful melody and surprisingly undemonstrative guitar don't work as much magic, because Mazembe are giants, not angels, and "Shauri Yako" is merely the greatest hit of a band centered around a sparkling-not-stellar guitarist. They can't top it or even equal it. But they're worthy of it every time. Listen for Lovy Longomba, a/k/a "ya Mama," who's so high-voiced he takes the wife's part once. Listen for the dabs of horn. What the hell, listen for the guitar. A-

Mazembe @ 45RPM Vol. 1 [Sterns Africa, 2013]
Clearly a first-rank band, they were also clearly a band without a true star on vocals or guitar. Since beyond a single drummer their music was all vocals and guitars, this is a limitation. Nor does the songcraft help much. So this lovingly conceived, skillfully engineered reconstruction from the big-holed, two-sided originals provides nine slightly subclassic soukous tracks averaging eight-and-a-half minutes apiece--in the East African manner, of course, which is less coruscating than its Congolese counterparts. Samba Mapangala does take the lead once, and it's fine listening throughout. But it's definitely for adepts of the style. Mastermind Doug Paterson's thorough notes include summaries of Lingala lyrics that are more woman-friendly than Afropop so often is. B+